Imperiums: Greek Wars Review17 Aug 2020 0
Imperiums: Greek Wars Review
Released 30 Jul 2020
I’ve always thought Philip II, father of historical hotshot Alexander the Great, has been unfairly overshadowed by the legacy of his son. The war machine that would take Macedon from rural backwater to cultural superpower was designed not by the wunderkind conqueror, but by poor Philp II. While Alexander never saw a Gordian Knot he didn’t want to cut his way through, Philip had a more subtle touch, relying on political marriage, guile, diplomacy, religion, and culture to justify and support his conquests.
Small wonder then that few historical strategy or wargames cover that less grandiose, if equally impressive, rise – focusing instead on the lightening campaigns of Alexander or the Hellenistic world of his successors. Imperiums: Greek Wars, a turn-based 4X historical grand strategy game set in the Greco-Persian world of Philip, has come to fill this niche.
Developed by Kubat Software, Greek Wars is the spiritual successor to Aggressors: Ancient Rome, a small but well-received release centered on (you guessed it) the rise of Rome. It both looks and plays like 4X juggernaut Civilization, if with a more austere visual style and a hyper-focus on the ancient Greek world. This focus allows it to create an engaging strategic experience that also feels deeper than the cartoonishly abstract world of Civ.
The main campaign begins in 359 BCE, at the ascension of Philip II. At this time, Macedon is still an underdeveloped kingdom in the northern boondocks surrounded on nearly all sides by rivals, not yet the behemoth it will become a generation later. Greece simmers in the wake of the Peloponnesian Wars, during which the leagues of Athens and Sparta ground each other to dust after nearly 30 years of continuous warfare.
There is a power vacuum on the peninsula and any one of the 30 playable factions, spanning both sides of the Aegean, can rise to fill it. Greek Wars drops you on this map – a vast tapestry of city-states, 'barbarian' kingdoms, and Persian satrapies –and tasks you to take up the mantle of master of the Hellenic world.
Alternatively, there is also a smaller secondary campaign – taking place at the same start date but limited only to the Peloponnese – that lets you play around in the confines of Sparta’s sandbox. And, for those that would prefer the Civilization-style random starts, there is a customizable world generator that lets you create non-historical maps of various shapes and sizes to play on.
As the 4X descriptor implies, you’ll spend most of your time in Greek Wars exploring ancient Greece, expanding your domains, exploiting the various resources within your kingdom, and exterminating your neighbors. The world map is laid out on a grid of tiles strewn with cities, resources, and terrain features to navigate.
While the tutorial will get you into a position to start playing, the sheer density of information can be a little intimidating at the outset. There’s a bit of a learning curve to keeping track of the dozens of factions, trade deals, buildings, research, and resources.
Especially at the beginning of the game, it is not uncommon to receive a demand from some third party and be left scratching your head as to the implications of accepting or declining. (“Boeotia is demanding I make peace with the Dardanian Kingdom? Ok, um, but what is their relationship to me? Are we pals, or am I confusing them with Euboea?”). Doing this while also being bombarded with new diplomatic demands every turn is tricky at first, but once it clicks it creates a rewarding balancing act to navigate.
Building diplomatic and trade relations is key as, much like the historical Philip II, the fractious city-states of Greece will not be cowed by force alone. Establishing strategic alliances and securing trades for valuable resources is practically necessary, especially as Greek Wars has some interesting mechanics for invasions and federations.
'Influence' plays a role as well. It’s a resource that can be bartered just like wood or coal and can be used to lower the morale of enemy armies or cities or even persuade them to peacefully flip over to your empire, saving some blood and treasure in the process. Generals are particularly good at this but carry their own risks of turning coat if you rely on them too much.
Perhaps the most compelling part of Greek Wars is the combat. It takes to heart that by now well-worn adage: amateurs study tactics, but professionals study logistics. While it might appear simple at first glance – much like Civilization, you maneuver your troops on the world-map-grid to attack enemy units, cities, and structures – the systems of supply and moral turn even minor conflicts into strategic and logistical dilemmas.
This is important because there's not an incredible degree of unit variety, so most of the strategic challenge comes from navigating the challenge of fielding and maintaining an army. Each unit’s attack, defense, and moral deplete with use and are painfully slow to recover. Units who are out of supply (due to being too far from a city or its connected road system) will begin to take punishing amounts of attrition, shedding away their strength until they are defeated in battle or revolt and flip sides.
Even on short campaigns, a builder unit must tag along with an army to maintain a road network in the wake of the advance. Cities, once captured, usually need to be repaired – sometimes at significant expense – or they will begin to hemorrhage citizens, adding an economic component to consider in conflict as well. Because of this, maintaining supply lines, concentrating force, and operating within your means are the pivot points of warfare in Greek Wars.
Though the plethora of possible starting positions and the customizable world generator lead to a game that has much replayability, there is little diversity in the tech and unit compositions. While this is understandable in such a confined region, it would have been nice to see some extra flavor thrown in to differentiate the factions somewhat. As it stands, besides differing positions on the linear technological scale, there is little to make the city-states of the peninsula stand apart from the Persian satrapies of the east or the tribal kingdoms of the north.
Still, Greek Wars nails that addictive 4X loop and it does so in an often-overlooked setting. One of the key issues with this genre is that fall-off point (typically around the late-mid-game) when you stop doing those titular 4Xs and start waiting for some turn counter to tick down while mindlessly mashing the end turn button. While there were certainly some down-time beats, all that layered complexity of diplomacy, economics, and trade means that there is almost always something to do and idle turns are relatively few and far between. If you’re interested in either the period or the 4X genre more broadly, Greek Wars is worth picking up.